Congo Watch: March 2006

Thursday, March 30, 2006

DRC: Civilians seek refuge near UN military camp to escape fighting

At least 1,000 residents of two villages in the DRC northeastern district of Ituri sought refuge on Wednesday around a camp of Bangladeshi UN troops following fighting between militiamen and the national army, an official of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) said. Full report (IRIN) Mar 29 2006.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Congo rebel group says it will go to polls

Congo's biggest former rebel group said on Friday it would end its boycott of the huge country's peace process and contest elections in June, reports IOL Kinshasa March 25 2006:

Azarias Ruberwa's RCD-Goma, backed by neighbouring Rwanda during Congo's devastating 1998-2003 war, said he would stand for president on June 18 in the country's first free national parliamentary and presidential polls in more than four decades.

"I have already been designated as presidential candidate by the party," Ruberwa told reporters in the capital Kinshasa, saying he would lodge his nomination papers in the next few days.

The announcement follows weeks of wrangling within the transitional government over the allocation of parliamentary seats in the territory formerly controlled by RCD-Goma, which still enjoys widespread support and influence in the area.

RCD-Goma had suspended its participation in all transitional institutions and cast doubt on whether it would take part in the June elections.

Ruberwa met United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan who visited Congo this week to encourage preparations for the elections and ensure all parties take part in the polls.

A statement from RCD-Goma acknowledged Annan's mediation role but said the dispute over constituencies had not yet been resolved and it would not rule out further protest action.

An RCD-Goma boycott could seriously jeopardise the credibility and organisation of elections in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militia still operate and aid workers say 1,000 people are being killed every day, mainly through hunger and disease.

An estimated 4 million people have died as a result of the conflict since 1998.

The United Nations has its biggest peacekeeping operation in Congo, and the European Union plans to send troops to help safeguard the elections.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New website for friends of the DR Congo

Email just in introducing new website for Friends of the Congo. Good luck and best wishes to all concerned.

Museveni braces to fight Ugandan rebels in DR Congo

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has reiterated his warning to pursue rebels of the Lord`s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern DR Congo where they have reportedly gathered to attack Uganda, reported AngolaPress March 24, 2006. Excerpt:

"We will pursue the LRA rebels into the DRC if they launch attacks on any part of Uganda, with or without approval of the international authorities. Uganda had a right to self-defence under international law," Museveni warned in an interview published in the state-owned Sunday Vision.

The repeated threat but the strongest follows reports by Uganda army that LRA leader Joseph Kony, crossed into north-eastern DR Congo last week to join his loyal deputy, Major-General Vicent Otti, who is holed up in the Gramba game reserve.

The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) claimed that LRA rebels have found jungles in north-eastern DRC, particularly the Garamba game reserve, a new sanctuary for them to re-group, re-organise and freshly attack Uganda since they were flushed out of their rear bases in southern Sudan.

In a related development, UN envoy Dennis McNamara has described the rebel war in northern Uganda as a shame to the Museveni regime, the international community and the United Nations.

"Twenty years is so long, we have failed the people in the north. They are crowded in camps without being protected. This is a huge challenge nationally and internationally," McNamara told a news conference here Friday.

"The conflict is one of the world`s most serious humanitarian crises, with crude mortality rates among displaced children which are higher than those prevailing in Darfur [western Sudan], and three times more than the rest of Uganda."

"You cannot achieve peace and security when you militarise the whole area when civilians have to be at the front and the military at the back.

"Even in peacekeeping missions like Darfur, they don`t keep the military at the front, McNamara said.

There should be a collaborative effort to ensure that peace returns to the region," added McNamara, at the end of a weeklong multi-donor mission in Kampala.

But Uganda army and Defence spokesman, Major Felix Kulayigye responded to McNamara`s remarks indifferently, saying, "A military situation requires a military action".

"In a war situation there is no law and order. You cannot resort to peaceful means. Agreeably we have had our weaknesses, but we have learnt lessons and addressed these weaknesses," Kulayigye told journalists.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Press conference by Special Representative of Secretary-General for Burundi

Press conference by Special Representative of Secretary-General for Burundi.

Source: United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) 22 Mar 2006, courtesy ReliefWeb.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Number of refugees: Sudan 5m - DRC 3m - Uganda 2m

African leaders bear much of the responsibility for the continent's 12 million people living in poverty in their own countries after being driven from their homes, a senior United Nations official said on Wednesday, Reuters reported March 22, 2006. Excerpt:

Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland was speaking at the launch of a report showing that last year Africa accounted for half of the world's "internal refugees" and Zimbabwe alone for nearly a third of the 2 million new ones.

"The African leadership has been horrendous in the last generation in so many of these situations, and they have to face the truth," Egeland, former head of Norway's Red Cross, told a news conference.

The Norwegian report, "Internal Displacement: Global View of Trends and Developments in 2005", said Sudan with 5 million remained the country with most internal refugees, and numbers were swelling further because of the conflict in Darfur.

Uganda, which Egeland said he planned to visit shortly, had 2 million internal refugees, almost all in the north of the country where a rebel Lord's Resistance Army has created havoc for years and regularly raids camps for the displaced.

The DRC still had 1.7 million, and there were 1.3 million in Iraq, many of them left over from population movements enforced under the regime of Saddam Hussein ousted by a U.S.-led invasion three years ago.

The Norwegian report is available at www.internal-displacement.org.

Monday, March 20, 2006

DR Congo rebel Thomas Lubanga due in Hague court

The leader of a Democratic Republic of Congo militia is set to become the first war crimes suspect to be charged at the International Criminal Court.

Thomas Lubanga was transferred to ICC custody on Friday from DR Congo.

The court, based in the Dutch city of The Hague, said he would face three charges related to the use of children in armed groups.

Full story (BBC) 20 March 2006.

Note, the report states Thomas Lubanga's UPC has been battling for control of Ituri's gold. Read On the trail of DR Congo's 'cursed' gold.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Congo hands militia chief to Hague court - UN source

Excerpt from Reuters report today:

The Congolese government is handing over a militia leader suspected of ordering the killing of nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers last year to the International Criminal Court, a U.N. source said on Friday.

The case would be the first dealt with by the world's first permanent global war crimes court to try individuals.

The U.N. source in Congo, who asked not to be named, said Thomas Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) ethnic militia in eastern Congo's lawless Ituri district, was being transferred to the ICC headquarters in The Hague.

ICC officials in The Hague declined to comment.

The ICC issued its first warrants last year for five leaders of Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which also operates in northeast Congo, and has launched investigations into war crimes in Congo and Sudan's Darfur region.

DR Congo rebel Thomas Lubanga faces Hague trial

The UN force in DR Congo is the biggest in the world. The leader of a DRC militia group is to be sent to the world court over the killing of UN troops, a Congolese human rights group says Voice of the Voiceless, reported BBC Mar 17, 2006. Excerpt:

Thomas Lubanga was arrested a year ago after nine Bangladeshi United Nations peacekeepers were killed in the volatile north-eastern Ituri region.

This would be the first case dealt with by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Dutch city of the Hague.

The ICC was set up to deal with war crimes and genocide around the world.

Mr Lubanga was brought out of his jail in the capital, Kinshasa, by the Congo military on Thursday and informed that he will be judged by the ICC, according to Congolese human rights group Voice of the Voiceless.

Mr Lubanga is accused of having ordered the killing of the peacekeepers in February 2005 and of being behind continuous insecurity in the area.

Several teams of ICC investigators have been sent to Ituri in recent months where more than 50,000 people have died since the inter-ethnic war began in 1999.

Thomas Lubanga's ethnic Hema Union of Congolese Patriots has been battling their Lendu rivals, partly for control of Ituri's large deposits of gold.

Some 17,000 UN peacekeepers are in DR Congo, tasked with ensuring that elections planned for June go smoothly.

They have been backing up the Congolese army as it conducts raids against the numerous rebel groups based in the east.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Uganda: Kony Joins Otti in eastern DRC?

allAfrica.com report March 16, 2006 by F. Ahimbisibwe (New Vision, Kampala)

THE Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) chief, Joseph Kony, has joined his deputy Vincent Otti in the Garamba National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kony left his hideout in southern Sudan on Tuesday with over 70 soldiers, according to the army sources.

Army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye yesterday said the army had confirmed that Kony had crossed, prompting the UPDF to reinforce deployment at Uganda's border with the DRC.

"We have stepped up security and we are on high alert although Kony and his men are weakened. We do not want to take chances. We have to ensure that our people at the border are safe," he said.

Kulayigye said they had alerted the DRC authorities and the United Nations to disarm or arrest the rebels.

"Since we are not allowed to cross over and hunt them down, we have alerted DRC authorities to find them and annihilate them wherever they may be hiding," he said.

13,000 Sudanese refugees in DR Congo

UN refugee worker killed in Sudan, reports the BBC March 16, 2006:

Two gunmen attacked an office of the UN refugee agency in southern Sudan, killing a local guard and wounding two workers, the agency says.

The UNHCR said it was still seeking more details about the attack in the southern town of Yei.

Following the attack, the planned return of refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo has been suspended. The UNHCR says there are still 350,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries follwing a 21-year war. More than 13,000 refugees are in DR Congo.

The two wounded UNHCR employees are being treated in hospital in the southern capital, Juba, before being airlifted in Nairobi, Kenya.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the attack was a "shocking" event.

Monday, March 06, 2006

DR Congo peace force may get EU backup

Sapa-AP report from Brussels Mar 6, 2006 excerpt:

European Union (EU) defence ministers will seek to flesh out plans today to send an EU military force to back United Nations (UN) peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the country prepares for presidential elections.

The defence ministers, meeting in Innsbruck, Austria, also will review plans for EU states to pool a small part of their defence budgets for co-operative research - a move critics have denounced as a threat to national control over military affairs.

The possibility of increased European assistance to the faltering international peacekeeping mission in Sudan, led by the African Union, would feature during the two-day meeting, EU officials said.

A request from the UN for European troops to bolster the 16000-strong mission in Congo has underscored the EU's difficulties in building up its own effective military capability.

Previous attempts to establish a rapid reaction, combined EU force have failed.

Although the plan entails only a few hundred, highly mobile troops able to rush to potential trouble spots for a few months, in this instance as Congo holds its elections, the EU has struggled to find states willing to lead or contribute to the force.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers last week, diplomats said France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium had stepped forward to lead a possible force in Congo, although some were insisting on strict conditions on how their troops could be used.

Officials were hoping for firmer offers to come from the Innsbruck meeting, although they said much would depend on a debate expected later in the month in the German parliament on the possible deployment of German troops.

EU officials in Brussels said options under discussion included the deployment of 200-450 European soldiers to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, ahead of the June 18 presidential election.

Up to 800 additional troops would be held on standby outside Congo ready for rapid intervention if there is trouble.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Rev. Theodore Ngoy holes up in SA's DRC embassy

A DR of Congo opposition leader who was arrested in December has escaped from custody and sought sanctuary in the South African embassy, reports The Star March 2, 2006:

Father Theodore Ngoy, a candidate in the presidential election planned for June, told reporters yesterday he had slipped his police guard and fled to the embassy after making a court appearance.

He said he was seeking political asylum from South Africa because of his "imprisonment and bad treatment" in police custody since his arrest on December 29 for allegedly insulting the head of state. Full story.

Update Mar 7: Thanks to Congo Watch reader The Malau for pointing out it is Rev. Theodore Ngoy, and not Father. He is an evangelical/pentecostal/non-denominational pastor.

Friday, March 03, 2006

DR of Congo: peacekeepers help army against rebels

United Nations press release via Scoop 2 March 2006:

In the second military operation this week of its kind, some 300 United Nations peacekeepers, backed by helicopter gunships, are helping the army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) dislodge militia said to have been looting and enslaving locals in the eastern region of the vast country.

The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) reported today that Congolese troops have been fighting for the past six days to dislodge the militia members from the town of Tchei, some 60 kilometres south-east of the Ituri region's main town, Bunia. The blue helmets involved come from MONUC's Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Moroccan contingents.

On Monday, the mission announced that another 300 'blue helmets,' also backed by combat helicopters, were helping the army further south to drive out rebels from neighbouring Rwanda, where they have been operating for the past 10 years in the heavily forested area north of Bukavu, the main city of the South Kivu region.

"MONUC is intervening to bring security to the region and assure the protection of the civilian population," the mission said in a statement on that operation against Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The Hutus moved across the border in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus, in which 800,000 people are estimated to have died.

The operations were the latest in recent months in which MONUC has played a more active role in seeking to bring stability to the eastern DRC as the country prepares to hold national elections in June to cement its transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives through fighting and the attendant humanitarian catastrophe - the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

UN peacekeepers, govt troops attack rebel groups in DRC

Via Xinhuanet March 2, 2006:

UN peacekeepers and government troops of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) launched an attack against rebel groups in the eastern region to pave the way for the country's upcoming June elections, said a UN special mission spokesman on Wednesday.

In the operation, which is aimed at creating a stable environment for the country's first elections in more than 40 years, UN peacekeepers and government troops fought on two fronts.

One was in the northeastern Ituri region, where about 500 blue-helmets (UN troops), and 2,500 government troops fought with an unknown number of militia, said the spokesman.

The UN and government troops used over 40 armored cars and several fighter and transport helicopters to fight the militia, who have used the region as a base for attacking and robbing civilians.

Another 300 Pakistani blue-helmets and 1,000 government troops fought with anti-government militia in the eastern province of Sud-kivu and set up outposts to keep Rwandan anti-government forces from spreading in the region.

The DRC, formerly Zaire, is rich in minerals but is still suffering from the effects of its last war, from 1998 to 2003, which left nearly 4 million people dead, mostly from disease and hunger.

The war officially ended in 2003, but bands of gunmen, who have refused to disarm, continue to terrorize civilians in large areas of the country, particularly in the lawless but mineral-rich eastern region. Enditem